I just learned that Bernie DeKoven, a.k.a. “Blue,” has died, of cancer.
Bernie was my high school friend Elyon’s father. In high school and college, I had a hard time interacting with most of my friends’ parents, but Bernie was different.
He was one of the leaders of the New Games movement. I had grown up with the New Games books—perhaps hard to avoid when you’re the child of hippies in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s—so I was impressed with him for that. I may have been even more impressed with his multiple computers running various games, which I think he may have been reviewing professionally at the time. And I was impressed with his affectionate relationship with his family, and with his friendliness.
Later, he was one of the few parents-of-my-friends who stayed in touch. He and I were never super-close, but we intermittently sent friendly notes back and forth, and occasionally linked to each other’s posts. He had become known as “Dr. Fun,” and as the proprietor of the Deep Fun and A Playful Path websites. He posted regularly on Google+ about games and fun, and I was always pleased to see his posts.
But I drifted away from Google+, and somehow didn’t know that he also posted regularly on Twitter. And I hadn’t been in touch with him for a while. And so I didn’t know about his cancer diagnosis last year, and I didn’t see his farewell post in November.
Forward magazine published a lovely article about Bernie and his life in December. I just read it; it tells me all sorts of things I didn’t know about him. It oddly leaves out any mention of his family life after he grew up, but still, it’s very much worth reading if you have any interest in games or play, especially in their intersection with Judaism. Here’s the bit I liked the best, which seems to me to capture a significant part of what I, too, learned from Bernie (and from Elyon):
Bernie teaches us that games are not a set of authoritarian rules but more like a social contract. And if everyone agrees to play well together, games become “a blueprint for a certain kind of thinking about society, about how you relate to other people, or might change yourself or change your community.” In this context, games are a thing to shape meaning, and what Bernie does is empower us to be flexible and pliant, to see games as not something just to play but also to play with, to change, together, to keep the game going.
Farewell, Bernie. I’m sorry I didn’t say goodbye before you left. I know those of us still here will keep the game going, but I’m sorry that you won’t be here to play it with us.